The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend is a semi-autobiographical manga about self-loathing, self-discovery, and ultimately, thankfully, a story of self-acceptance and love. Mieri introduces herself to us as a Japanese office worker living in the U.S., setting up the narration she will provide to catch us up to the present. In middle school she found herself attracted to anime women, but didn’t realize until she was in college that she was gay. She takes us through her journey from repressed tomboy to self-actualized adult, but that journey is anything but easy. The line that summarizes the experience of this book best happens late in part two: “Little did I know that Ash would become my first girlfriend and that we would break up after a month of dating and that I would spend 4 years in hell trying to get over her.”
Mieri is a sophomore in college when she has her first relationship and while it is very short lived it winds up dominating the next four years of her life. It’s immediately apparently that Mieri has very little self-confidence. In the early chapters she is repeatedly putting people on pedestals. This is as equally unfair to herself as it is to these people in her life. She feels she hasn’t earned the love and consideration she’s shown. This causes an imbalance between them which, in her mind, seems impossible to overcome. The trend for most of this book is Mieri experiencing so many firsts in life and trying to reconcile what they might mean, while not loving herself enough to take care of herself. She tries to work hard enough to earn the love of others or to keep a relationship working even when it’s not.
The central character to Mieri’s journey of discovery is her first girlfriend Ash, who she meets on summer vacation when she visits her grandparents in Japan. After the early, tentative days of dating, they say they love one another and promise to stay together even after Mieri has to fly back to the U.S. for school. Things fall apart when Ash learns that Mieri isn’t graduating as soon as she thought she was. It’s basically a semester later, but Ash has had several long distance relationships with boyfriends that didn’t work out and she won’t wait a year for anyone again. Mieri is initially heartbroken, but decides she will get an internship in Japan so she can try to win Ash back. What she thinks is a grand romantic gesture ultimately falls flat when she learns Ash is seeing someone new. From here she spirals into depression and loneliness as she has no friends in Japan. She could have wallowed forever, but she slowly comes to embrace the life she actually has. She becomes a better friend, gets back to drawing manga, and carving out an identity for herself. There isn’t a clean resolution at the end of this book, but only in service of setting up the next installment.
The redeeming part of this book is that Mieri never gives up on herself and even when things are dark, she doesn’t engage in self-destructive behavior. The style of this book and it’s incredibly frank honesty reminded me at times of Nagata Kabi’s work in books like My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and My Alcoholic Escape from Reality. The difference between these is that Mieri does not spiral into such dark places. She’s depressed, she’s sad, she’s lonely, but she’s never actively self-harming. I think that’s important because it makes this story accessible to more people, especially teen readers. There is one kiss in the entire book and you only see the back of someone’s head, so it’s not prurient in any way. Viz has this rated Teen and I agree with the assessment for placement in a library collection. As someone who has had a first infatuation, a first love, and first heartbreak, I was able to identify and empathize with this story. It left me wanting to tell her to hold on and keep trying. I felt parental in that moment. For readers who haven’t lived these things I imagine it only makes you read faster to see how she resolves these feelings and if she will find a happy ending. I enjoyed this book and have already purchased it for our library. Autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical in this case) manga and graphic novels have a huge reach and wide audience appeal, this book is no exception.
The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend
By Mieri Hiranishi
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Lesbian
Character Representation: Lesbian